Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Easier to Give than Recieve

Wow. For those that know me, I am the king of the 20-30-minute power-nap. I laid down this afternoon for a quick nap because I had been nodding off while trying to write... When I woke up, the clock read "8:50" and it was dark outside. I couldn't figure out why the sun didn't come up! I was quickly reflecting on the Broadway musical "Annie"...  she bet her bottom dollar that the sun would come out tomorrow, so where is it?? Then reality started settling in. Wow. Now that was a 5-hour nap!

I want to thank Beth and Tom Davis for their generous offer to loan me a chair to sit/sleep in during my chemo and radiation therapy. It rocks! (Literally, it is a rocker) And, it is a recliner. I'm a happy man... I slept in the chair the past few nights and it is perfect for my needs. Thank you Beth and Tom!

All that said, I have been quiet for the past few days because I've been enjoying the company of my "middle" sister, Lisa. Lisa is 4-years older, while Linda is 6-years older. I love time my sisters, especially the alone times so that we can share and be vulnerable, talking about life, goals, setbacks, hurts and general befuddlements.  I love my sisters and parents... I'm seriously blessed with an amazing family that loves me dearly. Especially my daughters. I don't feel like I deserve to be loved as much as they love me. They give me unconditional love. I seriously have all that I could ever want. I could end today's blog installment right there, but there is more...

I have been learning a hard lesson over these past few weeks. I am kind of a hypocrite, really.

Over the years I have given to people, organizations and local charities. I believe giving should come from an altruistic heart, to be philanthropic and to make a difference. The truth is, I have had a "There but by the grace of God go I" perspective. I love to give and bless others, but I don't need to accept from others because... because... Why is it? What was blocking my ability to receive from others who have graciously offered to help financially as they are able or to receive offers of housecleaning, etc.?  I could only come to one conclusion.


Ouch. I am getting nerve pain again from tears starting to well up. 

I am a prideful man who would rather rob others of their desire to give and show support than look weak and "needy."

So, I ask your forgiveness. I was stubborn and prideful and wrong. I am not saying this as a sneaky request for donations. I am saying this because it is a humbling realization that this cancer stuff is healing my heart. 

Are you stubborn? Prideful? Robbing others of their desire to love and bless you? It doesn't have to be in the form of cash donations, but in other ways?

Paul quotes Jesus in Acts 20:35... "It is more blessed to give than receive." I was being a better "Christian", right?

Then I flashed back to a story that was taught to me in Sunday School about Jesus kneeling down to wash his disciples feet and Peter says there is no way he is going to let Jesus wash his feet. Jesus replies that unless he lets him, he has "no part" of him... That can be interpreted many ways, but to my heart, Jesus was saying that it would mean Peter would not be His true friend. Peter heard those words and said (in 2013 vernacular) "DUDE! Don't stop at my feet, wash my hands and head too!"

Learning to receive love is hard, but I'm trying. The thought that someone could truly want to clean my house does not compute.  Getting on their knees to clean... cleaning toilets... There is no way they could really mean what they offer, right? My inability to say, "Yes, please. That would be a blessing to me" is not coming easily. 

I cannot desire to wash others feet but deny them the chance to do the same (metaphorically speaking... we can get pedicures for that these days) That said, it is a process. I need to stop being Peter.

Today when I told my girl's mother, Debbie, about what I'm struggling with, she said, "Let people love you and stop denying them the chance to bless you... you are stealing their blessing too..." Wow. I'm not just prideful, I am stealing something that leads to them being blessed as well.

Good thing I am a work in progress.

In a similar line of thought, I want to scold my friends about something. We may not see eye-to-eye on our belief systems, but regardless of what you believe, you need to know that if you want to be my friend, you need to let me be your friend.

Did you hear that? If you want to be my friend, you need to let me be your friend.

Paul says in Galatians 6:2 that we are to carry each others burdens if we want to fulfill the law of Christ. That's huge. So how does this apply to you? Let's say you had a bad day. The barista got your coffee drink order wrong and you didn't realize it until you got to the office... You got a flat tire... you lost your job... your mother died...

You would be stunned to learn just how many of my friends have endured the stresses just listed and more and have felt guilty "burdening me" with their problems. Now who's robbing who? Please... as I sit in my new (gently used) rocker/recliner... I can either watch TV or pray for you, helping to carry your burden. Please, please, please do not rob me of my chance to be your friend. If you've had a bad day, you've stubbed your toe, broke a nail or lost a loved one, no problem is bigger or smaller than mine. It's just life-stuff that we have to work through. Please let me love you through it rather than from the sidelines. Let me be your friend. Let me be blessed by blessing you.

~Robert B. Haase,
A Blessed Man

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Sharing My Body with an Unwelcomed Guest

I've you've never had cancer before... you can still relate. Ever had an uninvited house guest that you really didn't want to have invading your personal space, yet they seemed to invite themselves and stay beyond what you were comfortable with? You found yourself sharing your home with an intruder... only with cancer, the intruder isn't only unwelcome and uninvited, it has an irritating personality quirk. It wants to kill you. Talk about unwelcome.

Evicting the uninvited guest takes more work than you realized. 

I've watched enough sci-fi horror films to know that just like an angry alien from a distant planet, cancer has no desire to be nice to my body during its stay. It wants to maim, ravage and spoil, leaving scars and wreaking havoc. Oh well. "Chicks dig scars", right? Probably not. That's why Adobe invented Photoshop and it is only the surface.

I am in the "eye of the storm" phase at the moment. Having weathered the physical and emotional pounding of my three cancer surgeries in a period of 29-days (four if you count the nifty installation of my stomach feeding tube), now comes the wait until November 4th when chemo and radiation begin. At least I've got a cool mask to hold me down.

I think the most difficult thing I've had to deal with in the past couple of weeks is realizing the effects of the cancer on my taste and jaw. Apparently, the cancer was wrapped around a nerve in my lower left mandible. When the cancer was cut out, the nerve was damaged in the process. Now, every time I take a bite of food after not eating for a couple of hours, I get a pain that is indescribable. It doesn't matter if it is sweet, sour, salty... just flavor of nearly any kind. When the food touches my lower left teeth, pain shoots like a lightening bolt, nearly knocking me to my knees. You know that "one to ten scale" we use to designate how painful something is? This pain is a solid nine. We never say "ten" because nobody would believe us. That said, it is really a 9-1/2. I've never cried as an adult from pain. Not until now.

Today, my parents picked me up to get me out of the house and drove me to Panda Express for lunch. All I could eat was the fried rice because it didn't take much work eat. I took the first bite and there it was, the bold of lightening, screaming through my jaw. All I could do was put my hand to my face as the tears rolled. I can take a lot of pain. I always have, but this is the worst I have ever experienced. Even starting to cry causes it to fire. Will I stop eating? Hope not. Stop crying? Unlikely. I'm really praying this settles down though. It did get me thinking though.

Our nerves are interesting things. The receptors of information in my body have been damaged. Other than that, nothing has really changed. Salt is still salt, but how my body perceives that salt has changed. Same salt. Different perception. Flavors that once brought me joy now drop me to my knees in agony.

Life is kind of like that. We often blame the world around us for what happens, but in reality, it is our hearts, our "mental taste buds" that are reacting differently because we are perceiving differently. Our "nerves" have been damaged.  Irritating people have always been irritating. Mean people have always been mean. Life happens. How we react to that is where your "mental nerve health" comes into play.

Cancer has damaged my nerves, changing the nerve's perception of what it encounters. Do I need to change the world or be angry at salt? No.  I need to heal, let my heart heal... my mind, my spirit. Let the world fade away as I set my eyes on what is important.

I don't know about you, but I choose to give my nerves to Christ. Not because I need a crutch, but because He can heal them. Matthew 11:28 says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest."

When I let go, my heart will change, my mind will be made new, my spirit refreshed.

I do not need to hope for a good day ahead... I need to hope for my whole and healed body to interpret what I encounter differently.

Don't blame the salt.

I love you, my friends. I hope you can sit back and take in the many blessings that are all around you. From the smallest of things to the big and obvious. Slow your breathing and close your eyes. Take a few moments and think. Despite what is going wrong, what is going right? Despite what you don't have, what do you have? Again, it can be the smallest of things... like, why is Cap'n Crunch still legal?? It's too good to be legal! A blessing? Yes! Sorry, I digress... please don't tell my family doctor. If you feel pain, be thankful that it means you are still alive to feel it.  Look closely... the blessings are there, all around you.

~Robert Haase,
A Blessed Man

PS: Font size changed at the request of a few of my "slightly older" friends. ;-)

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Anger, Part II

I went in to have my radiation mask fitted a couple of days ago. Strange experience. The mask is designed to hold you in place. Same position, every treatment. If all goes well, it saves having permanent tattoos on your face to isolate the treatment.

The idea is that for the radiation to work, they must give a specific beam of energy to the same spot on every single visit. Seven weeks at five days a week... 35 treatments of precisely-targeted radiation. My own personal Chernobyl. It seems odd that we use something that causes cancer to fight cancer. Seems that is the case with a lot of things in life. No wine is good. Some wine is better and too much is bad. Everything in moderation can be used for good. No fire and you freeze to death. Some and you stay warm. Too much and you burn your house down. It is hard to fear something that is designed to save my life, yet it feels easy to fear, nonetheless. At the same time, knowing I am facing an unrelenting bombardment of radiation... It's hard to keep a smile on my face everyday when I think ahead. Laying this in God's hands is a daily task.

My friend, Shari Aldrich, stopped by this week as well. Shari owns the school I founded. It was quite a sight. You see, Shari was participating in the "Tough Mudder" race (basically a half-marathon with insane obstacles. Long story short, on October 6th, just three days after I lost 1/2 of my tongue, Shari lost her pinky finger on one of the obstacles. It was torn clean off. It was the same obstacle that took a man's life earlier this year. As a massage therapist and massage therapy instructor, Shari's life has changed. Both of us lost part of the very tools we use to perform our jobs. Both of us have therapy ahead that will help us adapt to the world in which we live. The outcome of that therapy is an unknown for both of us. Crazy.

Shari wasn't the first person to ask me about my process and how I'm dealing with the anger. "Did you already get through that stage? Did you deal with the anger already?"

After giving that question some thought, the answer was clear.

Of the American population, 50% of the men and 33% of the women will get cancer. One in six will suffer a stroke. Four of five will suffer economic hardship. The list goes on. Life happens. Things happen to all of us. The question isn't "will something happen?"... the question is "when?"

Truth is, if I get angry that I am dealing with cancer, what that really means is that I'm angry it wasn't someone else instead of me. If my desire is to fulfill the greatest of the commandments, showing love to my neighbor means I am willing to take on cancer so that they do not have to.

If you are the lucky one who does not have to deal with cancer... the next logical question comes into play, and that is this: What will you do with your life since you are not being attacked by this vicious disease? What will you do to make a difference in your world? How will you be a blessing to your neighbors, your city, your world?

Remember... The question isn't IF we are going to die... we all are. The question is, how are you going to live?

I am so very blessed, regardless of my situation, and I am so excited that I have the opportunity to bless others still.

~Robert Haase,
A Blessed Man

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Anger is an Emotion. Acting out in Anger is a Choice.

I've had two different friends mail me a "Dammit Doll", a punching bag of sorts, in doll form. Objects to take out my bursts of anger upon... outlets to deal with overwhelming thoughts and emotional pain.

If you have known me long enough, it will be hard for you to put your finger on a specific time or incident that made me truly angry. At least angry to a point that you might notice. Truth is, the only thing that really makes my blood boil is seeing a woman or child poorly treated, or someone trying to hurt my daughters or family. God help them. Other than that, I'm a peaceful guy.

My father spent 12-years in the US Navy and demonstrated the self-control of an officer and a gentleman. He trained me to be respectful not just to women, but everyone. Even growing up I asked him about defending myself in junior high. A kid wanted to fight me. Dad said, "Jesus said to 'turn the other cheek'... you've got two cheeks." I learned to take two punches. For some odd reason, that ability combined with a grin on my face seemed to scare the bullies a little. I never did have to fight.

It isn't that I haven't had to deal with anger. I have. 

Years ago, I remember losing my temper and yelling at my little girls when I was overwhelmed, lacking sleep and frustrated. The more I yelled, the more I scared myself. I was angry and stressed, and yelling seemed to let the pressure off. At least it made me feel better.

In 1999, my girl's mother, Debbie, and I traveled back to Indianapolis for a training that we were required to attend so that we could obtain access to a certain home-school curriculum. I wasn't super excited about home schooling, let alone being required to stick to a list of "house rules" while we were using the materials. Debbie asked me to try it for one year. I agreed.

When we arrived at the training center, I was very much out of place. The men wore shirts and ties. The women were nearly all wearing dresses that looked as though they were made with the family sewing machine. We had traveled back in time. I was NOT happy that I was being forced to have to sit with these sheltered country folk and it was seriously cramping my style.

On the second day of the orientation training, the men were required to attend a "For Men Only" morning meeting. Great. 90-minutes of brain-washing aimed at just the fathers. "I can get through this," I convinced myself, as I begrudgingly made my way to the meeting.

It was in that meeting of men, that my life changed forever. 

The short story of that 90-minute lecture was this:

Anger is an emotion. Acting out in anger is a choice. 

The gentleman that was presenting showed in story after story in the Bible, the only one(s) that acted in anger without a negative consequence to their actions was God the Father or Jesus Himself. God/Jesus have self-control of "heavenly proportions", so to speak. When Jesus turned over the "money changers" tables in the temple? No downside. When Moses struck the rock in anger? Big downside.

Without making this into a huge boring sermon, understand the most important part...

Anger is an emotion. Acting out in anger is a choice. We all experience anger... what we do with that anger is so very important. Not just to ourselves, but to those around us. At that very moment when you want to break something in anger, stop and think... is my next action really going to make me feel better?

After that trip to Indianapolis, I found myself making immediate choices that involved self-control. When I got upset, I went for more walks.  Took more deep breaths. Called more friends on the phone. Got more massage. But most importantly, I reminded myself that acting out in anger is a choice.

A pattern of feeling the anger but not losing self control began to become part of who I am.

Fast forward to being told that I needed to lose half of my tongue. Rather than lose my temper, I took a deep breath and... Well, to be honest... I wasn't angry. Years of learning restraint seems to have had an impact on my way of thinking. I have had a number of friends almost get upset with me, telling me, "Why can't you just act normal? It's okay to be pissed! Get angry! Let it out!"  But I'm not angry. I have no need for a "dammit doll."

The fact is, I am blessed. Rather than asking, "God, why me??" I can't stop thinking, "Why not me?" Why should the "stuff of life" happen to everyone else but me? Am I so special that I "don't deserve" things that are random and happen to us all? No... I'm on the same journey that all of us face, and I am thankful that I have been being prepared over the years for this very moment in time.

Regardless of the "stuff" that comes my way... I still am so very richly blessed. I have amazing daughters, parents, sisters and friends. I have a beautiful place to live, a car with a factory warranty, vision to see the beauty in everything, hearing to enjoy amazing music, the sense of touch to take in hugs that warm my heart and take my breath away.

After all, I am a blessed man,

A Blessed Man

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Sometimes it's Better NOT to Know

I was able to meet with my radiation oncologist today. She's got a heart of gold and a smile that is comforting. A tiny red-headed woman who's due in January with another baby that she and her husband will add to their expanding family. She gave me a hug as she entered the examination room...

"You sound and look great!" she said. "I was expecting to see you looking like a disaster after reading your surgeon's notes and reviewing all that they did to you at Virginia Mason, but you look amazing! That's awesome.... so, your chemo and radiation will start in a couple of weeks. Usually we would wait longer, but you're really healthy and we can get started sooner."

She began to tell me about the road ahead and what to expect.

On Monday I will be returning to have her team create a special "hot mesh mask." They will heat a special type of plastic sheet and they apply it to my face. As it cools, they will use their hands to mold and press it tightly to my face and head, allowing it to harden in place and form the mold for my radiation treatments. It will be used to literally bolt my head in place with each treatment, guaranteeing that the radiation is delivered in the exact same location with each treatment. That was the good news.

Her body language and the look in her eyes started to shift to an "I'm really sorry to tell you this" look. She began to tell me about the therapy that I was going to have. As the words came out of her mouth, my heart began to sink.

"The bad news", my oncologist said, "is this... you will be having the very worst treatment of what I have to offer. It is the most painful therapy we can give. It's the most painful kind of cancer to treat. Your mouth will be on fire... open sores... the mucosa will be on fire... it will be hard to even swallow. Because of the lymph node involvement, we have to include your neck too. Without proper care, it will become like wood and unable to move. You must keep it moving to avoid fibrosis. Robert, this will be bad. I'm sorry. I wouldn't do this to my worst enemy, but it is what we need to do to make sure this cancer stays gone."

I am trying to be strong as I write this... my eyes are tearing up at the thought of what will come. 7-Weeks of 5-days-a-week unrelenting torment. "You'll be thankful for the weekends", she said. "You will be living on pain meds."

Wow. It would be easier not knowing what is to come, to be surprised by it, taken off guard. Instead, I have less than two weeks until it starts. I know what is coming.

I know that the blessing in this is that I will have the best chance of surviving this aggressive cancer and have the opportunity to be a grandfather one day. The chance to travel and see the countries that I've been wanting to see and experience, like my family's homeland in Ireland, France, Germany... places like Africa and Asia. So much living yet to do, but I have to be destroyed before I can become new.

We often want that in our prayers, for God to provide us with what we have never had before. Learning that the old has to be torn down to rebuild the new might be a bigger process than we could have ever fathomed though. Careful what you pray for.

The good news is this... that regardless of the depths that life may take you to, those depths are never deeper than how low God's arms can reach to pick you up and carry you through it.

I'm not only blessed, but I'm blessed knowing I have amazing physician's placed in my life that will help see me through this process... I have a future and I'm excited that when I emerge from this ordeal, I will live my life even more fully than I have until now.

Amazing things lie ahead... I am so very blessed.

A Blessed Man

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two Weeks Since They Put My Arm in My Mouth

It's now Thursday, October 17th, 2013. Two weeks ago, I went under general anesthesia for the second major surgery in the same week. The surgeon hadn't gotten all of the cancer just days earlier and the surgery had to be more drastic. I went from losing "nearly" half my tongue to being told I'd lose at least half and that it would be so undermining to the tongue's strength, that I would never be able to talk again unless they rebuilt it with skin from my forearm.

I was stunned as I sat there listening to the doctor... at least hearing the parts that got through.

"We didn't get it all," he said with a serious face. "We need to operate again and be more aggressive..."

It was like my ears were hearing... but my brain was having difficulty comprehending. "You're going to take skin from my arm and build me a new tongue?"


"Okay... when?"

"Tomorrow. I'm leaving for a week to a symposium and I want to do it personally before I go. I needs to be tomorrow."

The whole scenario seemed too crazy to be real, but it was. My life was about to change.

That was 14-days ago. Since then I've gone through having the unique surgery performed, having tissues, veins and and a nerve stolen from my forearm, leaving my tendons exposed... tissue was borrowed from my leg to cover up my tendons... a tracheotomy was performed so that I could breathe... a PEG tube was installed in my abdomen so I could get nutrition when my tongue would hurt so badly or be so swollen that I wouldn't be able to accept anything by mouth.

I feel like a walking war zone survivor. I told my daughter, Holly, this morning that for Halloween I could just remove my shirt and bandages and go as me... the man who survived the most recent battle of war. But that's okay. If my medical background has taught me anything, it is this: What is broken will heal, often stronger than before. The scar tissue can be altered as well. But, if the "range of motion" in my neck becomes reduced and that leads to me looking forward and rather than at the distractions of life, then all the better.

Not a long blog today, but I want to encourage you...

First, no matter the wounds of life, you will emerge stronger. No matter the pain you feel, your "Pain Threshold" is being reset, making you able to handle nearly anything as it comes.

The second encouragement is important. I have mentioned it before on my Facebook wall and that is this:  I've been told since I was a child that God would never give me more than I can handle. The truth is, the Bible says that we will never experience more temptation than we can handle. As for life, we often get more than we can handle... it is at those times that we need to fall to our knees and come to the realization that "I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13) You will encounter more than you can handle. Just know where your strength comes from when you face the storms of life.

A Blessed Man

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Perspective is Everything

It's funny how easily we focus on what we do not have, rather than what we do have. We see something taken away or a goal missed as a negative... or even failure. We see barricades as a bad thing, versus a God-given direction to put us on the right path. We lose out on something and are angry at the loss rather than realize the new found freedom we have just acquired.

I remember losing my home on the affluently-dense Cooper Point Rd in Olympia when my business failed due to the student loan crisis. Next was my BMW. Looking back, I smile. I lost a home that was now worth hundreds of thousands less than what I owed... a car that had dropped in value by 50% in a matter of months. My loss wasn't something to be angry about. It was a chain of events that loosed the shackles of my financial future.

When I started my vocational school years ago, I learned that the multi-purpose room in the Capital Medical Center's "Physician Pond" was available to my use because I was a paying tenant. Awesome! Free rent! Based on the size, I could fit three massage tables. That's six students at $10,000.00 in tuition each. I was so excited. $60,000.00 in income a year and free rent!

When I told the landlord which nights I needed the room to make the schedule work, he said, "Great. Just one small hitch... the woman that teaches yoga here on Tuesday nights would need to agree to giving up her time slot."

I wrinkled my brow... "She's not a tenant though, right? I have priority on requests?" 

"Nope. She's been here longer. I wouldn't want to upset her. Just give her a call" he said as he shrugged his shoulders.

The next day I called the woman and asked her about possibly moving her night so I could start my school. I explained how amazing it was going to be and how it was a dream I'd had for the past decade... Somehow she didn't catch the vision I had. "No." That was it. Just "No."

I was devastated. I was so angry that my school wasn't going to be able to have access to this nifty, tiny space for free. Who cared that the space that would require me to buy a box van to store our school supplies, moving them in every day and out every night. It didn't matter that it would be a school classroom that wasn't my own to design and decorate as needed. But it was my amazing plan, and now my amazing plan was being derailed by a yoga teacher. Seriously??

I licked my wounds for a few days and then noticed a sign for a space across the street in the adjacent medical park. It had never been built-out for a tenant. Virgin space. A space that would allow me to keep my educational materials in place and I could decorate as needed... a place that would cost less than two-student's combined tuitions annually... I could have a bigger space and make the same income with only two more students. Huh.

Then the wheels started churning... I envisioned a rock polisher... 

As a boy, I had a huge interest in rocks and out of my paper route income, I bought a rock polisher.  I learned early on that if I only put four or five rocks in that polisher, the rocks would just crash against each other resulting in spots that looked shiny, but in general, they would not end up as beautiful, finished stones. If I put dozens of rocks in together, however, I would have a barrel of amazing, beautiful, shiny gems when the process was complete.

I could see the end result. Me and a few students together for a year would likely produce mediocre results. Then I envisioned dozens of students working with dozens of teachers. Bingo. My insurmountable hurdle that made me so angry was a actually a blessing to my business. It was because of that stubborn yoga teacher that I ended up with a superior school.

When it gets crazy, pray for more rocks

Often the forces of life seem to come at us, chipping away at our exterior, pummeling us relentlessly. If you look back over your life though, often those tough times are what gave you the wisdom and strength to endure and have the characteristics needed to bless and shine into other people's lives today.

Obstacles are often really not obstacles at all. Rather, they are God's gentle, guiding hand, allowing us to avoid pitfalls and situations that would produce disastrous results. What we see as a stiff board or barricade holding us back is actually His arm with a finger pointing in a direction we couldn't fathom.

So why am I talking about rock polishers and barricades in my blog about losing my tongue? Good question.

The week prior to my surgery, I invited thousands of massage therapists to join me at The Evergreen State College for a free seminar... the only catch? They would need to sign a release for potentially appearing in my video recording. I knew I was going to lose my voice as it was and wanted to get the message out, unencumbered by a speech impediment. It was a lot of fun and nearly 150 therapists were able to learn that day.

This morning I was working on that video footage, editing it into a final DVD of my complete Secrets of Deep Tissue course. Watching myself on the screen, hearing my voice, the gift God had given me.  As the clips played, one after the other, I became a little sad. This would never be again as it is today. It will recover and retrain my voice to an unknown degree, but never would it be exactly the same. Would I have the stage voice again that I've taken for granted all of these years?

It was though a whisper was breathed through me at that moment that said,

"You will go from a perfect voice that was heard before rooms of less than 100 to an imperfect voice that thousands will intently listen to. It isn't the voice. It's the message."

Wow. It's not a barracade at all. It's a ramp shooting me into bigger things than I had envisioned, and I am so incredibly grateful.  I want to use whatever I have to bless others, for I am a blessed man.

A Blessed Man

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Mental War

Yesterday was a flurry of activity. It started with me getting to spend time with my sister, Linda. She's 6-years older. I love Linda dearly and we have never been super close, per se, but when I saw her yesterday I grabbed her and we both just sobbed, holding each other as if life depended on it. This cancer thing is leading to a lot of healing in me, my friends and family and people like you who are realizing that life is too short for taking people for granted. Even when I kick this cancer square in its ass, I have a feeling that the hugs between my sister and I will continue to be deeper and more meaningful. She is a blessing to me.

Linda was sitting by my side when my arm's "donor site" decided to erupt... (no worries, I'm not posting photos of this). Dr. Liv Harmon was the sole person concerned about fluid building up under my "dragon tail" scar... it was red and bulging some. Her concerns were set aside as I was discharged from Virginia Mason. So, for the record, GOOD CALL, DOCTOR! At the point where the oval on the forearm intersects with the "tail", fluids found their way and a great deal of fluids gushed forth. I'm not a doctor, but my medical back ground helped me "milk" the rest of the fluids out while not disturbing the tender graft from it's new home. it's all bundled up nicely now and the river of fluid has ceased. But, that was fun.

In the early evening my best friend, Cory, came for a visit. It was probably the most emotional day I've had in a while. Cory and I have been friends since my first year in college at Western Washington University (Go Vikings!)... we used to go out every week for $5 steak night at a local steak house and talk for hours. Cory and I have gotten together for "Bob & Cory time" ever since. It's been over 30 years of friendship. There are even a few episodes of "The Bob & Cory Show" on YouTube that we tried earlier this year. A reboot seems necessary when I can talk better. Cory and I have traveled the world together and gone through a lot of life along the way. He is the brother I never had.

Cory's father got cancer when Cory was only 16. They weren't able to cut out his father's cancer like they could mine, so they just treated him with chemotherapy and radiation. His father lasted just a year after diagnosis, but that process forced Cory to grow up faster than he wanted to. 16 is a horrible time to have to help your father fight a battle that isn't winnable. His father died.

My 18-year old, Holly, is my youngest and the only daughter that lives with me part time. She shouldn't have to, but she is bearing the emotional weight of this more than any of my friends or family because she sees things that I can usually hide from others. Last night there was a wave of emotions as Cory and I spoke... he told me of his father and how it affected him. He had told me some before, but his was different. He revealed details I didn't know about and his tears rolled as he explained how it had affected him. He lost the one man that meant the world to him. He doesn't want that to happen again and he made me swear I wouldn't give up and would fight this. Even more tears flowed as I hugged him and promised. I had to be here... especially for my girls.

Holly caught me in the kitchen prepping my medications for "tube insertion" and I was still tearing up. As she grabbed me for a hug, she could feel me quivering, trying to hold back. She could feel what I was trying to hide... thoughts of not making it, thoughts of leaving my girls way too soon, the sadness I felt for Cory and what he went through as a child, and thoughts of the pain that was making it so hard to believe the best at that moment in time. I couldn't hold it together and I just leaned over the kitchen counter, folded, uncontrollably crying while trying not to pull any additional stitches. This was more of a mental war than I had expected it would be, and the chemo and radiation have yet to begin.

Cory came back around the corner and saw what was happening. He grabbed us both and encouraged us as he always does. From his pain, he was doing his best to bring hope. I am so blessed to have Cory in my life.

In just a few minutes, my tears dried and the quivering stopped. Peace was filling my heart again and I could breathe. Thank you, Cory. I hope all of you have a "Cory" in your life, a friend who is there for you no matter what. I'm a blessed man to have that kind of friendship.

The next morning, Linda came back over and I made her breakfast... my "famous" scrambled eggs, Dave's Killer Bread toast and coffee... She ate and we communicated via my laptop as I prepped my yogurt with protein powder and vitamins. Linda felt bad that she was torturing me. She wasn't. Just because I can't eat or taste much right now doesn't mean I don't enjoy cooking for others. I was living vicariously through her taste buds... amazing how my memory can help me enjoy food I can't eat. The fragrance of the food being cooked... it was almost as though I was able to taste it.

This liquid diet is having an effect on my weight too. I was about 208lbs when I entered the hospital on September 30th. This morning, I weighed in at 192lbs. I have hunch I'll be losing more.

Tomorrow will be a good day. I get to start editing my latest seminar video footage, getting it ready for distribution. It will be a bit of a tease hearing myself talk for hours, but a reaffirming experience as well. I WILL get back the voice that God gave me, and when I do, I will use it with more purpose than in the past. I can still see myself in front of thousands of people wanting to hear the message of hope, blessings, love, pain, growth and how not to waste what we take for granted... every breath I take is a gift. How will you use your gifts today to bless others?

A Blessed Man

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Saturday, October 12, 2013


Yesterday, was a busy day. Seeing numerous doctors, nurses, my physician's assistant, and finally, my surgeon was back in town, and now he was in my room for a quick once-over.

He looked over my tongue, stoma from my tracheotomy, my long neck scar, arm "tongue donation" site and the grafting donor site on my left leg. All looked okay. "Let's get you out of here."

Just one more test. A "swallow study"... me eating in front of an x-ray video camera. The techs in the room were a fun, quirky bunch, but were good at what they did. Maybe it was working in proximity to the tray table of radioactive "foods" I had to eat/drink/chew/swallow on camera...

Radioactive milk... pudding, applesauce, peaches and "cream"... Are you serious? I had to get through this or never get my discharge. I was there long enough. Time to eat. Long story short, I passed.

During the test, one of the doctors asked what I did for a living. When I told him I taught injury treatment seminars throughout the country, he said, "I hurt my back last week..." He went on to talk about how helping his child learn to ride a bicycle caused him pain and how he started using heat on it and it got worse. I began to explain the dynamics of applying heat on inflammation and the doctor, nurse and technician were intrigued, listening close with interest... it was at that moment that I listened to my own voice. Turning the tables for them was no big deal. They are professionals. But for me, I sounded mentally handicapped. I said, "Wow, I sound really intelligent, don't I?" referring to my speech. They all nodded, "yes"... wow... Was I the very thing I hate?  I was assuming they would judge me based on how I sounded. Not so. Nor would I want to ever do that to anyone ever again. I felt ashamed.

I was wheeled back to my room and was told I could pack up... I didn't ask them to repeat that. Within minutes I had shed my hospital gown, my wardrobe for the past two weeks and was into my jeans and tee-shirt. I looked great. Except for the gauze pack with tape holding my tracheal stoma closed, the bandage on my forearm with the dragon tail scar arising from beneath, and my limp from my skin donor sight on my left leg. I didn't care. I was going home.

Rushing out the door, we were able to avoid most Friday night rush hour traffic and able to get me home in record time. Regardless, I was in pain.

One of my dear neighbors, Pam, rushed out her door to give me a hug. No words, just a hug... I started to cry. I was overwhelmed from the realization I was home, how blessed I am with the support people in my life, feeling loved, being in pain... The first thing I did when I walked into my home with my daughter, Holly, was to grab a hammer... I was in a lot of pain and needed drugs. A hammer is a great "Pill Crusher." Moments later I was squirting my "dinner" mix and meds through my abdominal tube. Amazing that abdominal tube.

Holly helped me get my bandages covered in plastic so I could shave and shower, and then I was off to bed, using blankets to make an incline angle. Now to sleep without moving all night...

Meds seem to make my sleep full of weird dreams... last night mine included a BBQ restaurant. I was chewing my delicious BBQ, waking up realizing I was chewing on my new tongue... the left side where I have no feeling. I got up and used a flashlight. My tongue seems to be splitting down the middle. Tongue chewing and talking too much in the past few days seems to have damaged things a bit. I think I'll be going back to using my laptop to communicate for a bit. In need one tongue, not two.

I was so glad to be able to pass up the "adult formula" for breakfast and opt for my favorite breakfast: Full fat Greek yogurt, protein powder and chia seeds. Had to pump them into me quick so the little chia seeds wouldn't expand and block my tube.

I have to admit, I had to stop and take a breath this morning... thinking of what blessings I have in my life rather than being overwhelmed by things that I used to take for granted, like hopping into the shower or grabbing a bowl of yogurt and hot cup of coffee. Oh great. I forgot I don't get coffee. **sigh**  Anyways... lots of blessings... I get to see my oldest sister today who came up from Sweet Home, Oregon to see me. There's my first blessing of the day. Oh! And my new iPhone arrived... number two!

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moments of Change

My surgeon, Dr. Bayles... he's apparently quite a big deal. His work is so rare and unique it is almost patentable, something you can spot at a glance based on how he does it. He is the only guy on the west coast that is at his caliber... and he works at Virginia Mason... in Seattle... just up the road from where I live...

I'm a seriously blessed man. 

I could finish my blog on that blessing alone today. Powerful stuff and so very cool. Apparently Dr. Bayles' son was watching the news and saw the King5 broadcast about my surgery and said something to the affect of, "Dad, that's pretty awesome! Whoever figured that out is pretty smart!" Dr. Bayles said to his son, "Uh, that's me. I did that."

Think about that for a moment... What a powerful moment in that boy's life... "MY dad figured THAT out! He's pretty smart!" Pivital moments. Whether for my doctor's son, or the moment I heard the words, "We need to cut out half of your tongue and half of your lymph nodes if you want to live," these kinds of moments are powerful, potentially course changing moments.

When I was told that my life was on the line, time was not a luxury and I needed to act now, or I would likely die. I was numb as the thoughts tried to sink in. "Wait... if I don't let the surgeon take half of my tongue and half of my lymph nodes, I might be dead in a mater of a few months."   I was thinking logically, like a business owner. I just spent a lot of money to get my fall seminar schedule launched. Non-refundable venue rental contracts, thousands of flyers printed and mailed per location... a huge investment. It wasn't my boss' money, it was my money. "Can't I wait a few months to get through my seminar season, THEN have surgery?" To keep this short and simple, the answer from my surgeon and his Physician's Assistant were emphatic, "You don't have that much time. Don't wait."

Seriously? I was worried about my wealth? When it came down to it, I had two choices. 1) Lose my life and let my family bury me for the holidays, or 2) cut out the cancer, live a few extra decades, be there for my girls and possibly, change what it is I talk about in my seminars. Life-altering choices.

I chose to live. I chose to live with a potential speech impediment. Better alive and talk differently than dead and not talk at all. I may have lost a lot, but I didn't lose what was important to me. It seems people get so angry about things that happen that take them off of the course to where they thought they wanted to go and missed that there was something wonderful happening, allowing them to change courses for the better.

I had my tube pulled from my neck, revealing a hole (stoma)... it looks like a deep belly button on my neck. The staples were pulled from the place in my arm that they pulled tissue to build my tongue. More changes. More options.

Originally my plan was to be in Denver teaching this weekend. That was cancelled. Instead, if all goes according to the doctor's plan, I get to leave this hospital tomorrow, heading home to sleep in my own bed for the first time in two weeks.  I will be leaving be wearing the same clothes I arrive in, but leaving a changed man.  Not what I had planned, but so grateful for those changes.

Just looking into my three daughter's faces and knowing I have the privilege of doing that for many more years is my blessing. 

Me and my three daughters... my blessings...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

When You Have Thought of Ending It All

Today was a unique day... usually, people see me as strong and determined. I am, but I'm also an emotional guy who occasionally loses it, crying uncontrollably. Today, both my nurse and my doctor caught me. Proof I was human after all.

Since I've arrived, on every walk I take, I end up dancing. Stupid crazy dancing. That wasn't who I was (officially) before this whole chapter in my life. But I've earned a reputation and the nurses and aids seem to look forward to coming to my room because they know I'll put a smile on their heart. Today was different. Up until 4:00pm, I had been my jovial self, but when I woke from my nap this afternoon, all of the weight of all of my friends and family's life "stuff" saddened me. They've got huge things happening in their lives. Most are thinking, "I can't bother Bob, he's going through so much."

Really?! This tongue thing, "It's just a flesh wound!*" Talk to me, dog-on-it! 
(or at least write to me...)

I feel badly that I'm shackled here in my room, unable to be there for those who are hurting. I know that some of you have contemplated, if only briefly, the thought of ending your pain. You've thought, "If I ended my life, it's no big deal... and I wouldn't feel what I'm feeling now." Forgive my language, but that is utter bullshit. You have touched someone's life. You are touching people's lives.

I remember over the years many instances people being affected by the smallest of things that I have done or said and I had no clue. To me, those things were inconsequential. To the person I was affecting? Life changing.

I was practicing my techniques when I was in massage school student back in 1991 and had the opportunity to massage a friend of a friend. I'll call him Kai for the sake of anonymity. Kai was a quiet man and gentle in his mannerisms. He arrived that first night with his boyfriend, who I'll call Brody, who was much more loud and obnoxious in how he carried himself, almost controlling Kai with every word.

When I asked him what kind of massage he was hopping for, Kai simply said, "I just need to relax." I said, "Okay. I'm going to leave the room and wash my hands. Go ahead and undress to your level of comfort and get on the table."

When I returned, I simply gave Kai a great relaxing massage, barely saying a word to him, only asking if a certain technique was too much pressure or to tell him it was time to turn over. At the end of the massage, Kai said, "Thank you. So, next week... can I come on the same day and time?" I said, "Sure! See you then." That weekly massage continued for months.

As time went on, Kai began opening up, talking more during his massages, letting me hear about his life, until one night Kai said, "I need to tell you something."

"What's that, Kai?", I followed.

"You saved my life.", he said in a soft voice and his eyes down at the floor.

"How did I do that?", I said with my eyebrows raised.

Kai raised his head and looked me in the eyes and calmly said, "Remember that first massage you ever gave me? Well, that week I had made the decision to kill myself. I couldn't take it any more. But you were the first man that ever touched me that didn't want to rape, molest or hurt me. You just cared and wanted nothing in return. You gave me hope. Thank you for that."

Wow. I had no idea. I was just doing my job, fulfilling my massage hours for school and, oh by the way, I changed a life in the process. I was needed. I made a difference. You are needed. You are making a difference, even when you think you are not.

My life right now is the most stressful and mind-bending place I've ever been mentally... and the physical strain on my systems is over the top as well. THIS IS NOT WHAT I HAD PLANNED! Some people in my situation might contemplate ending it all... I know how selfish that would be. All I can say is, we are on this planet for a finite stretch of time. What we do with that time is up to us...Whether at work or at play, you have opportunities to make a difference in every encounter, every moment, every smile. Be a blessing for someone to count that night when they go to bed.



I had "the panel" of doctors review my case today and it looks like I'll have 7-weeks of 5x a week radiation begin in a couple of weeks. During my radiation, I will have 3 chemo sessions. One at the start, one in the middle, and one at the end. I'm worried about losing my soul patch below my lower lip, but it looks like I have a donor standing by, just in case if falls out...

Also, they are planning to remove my trache tube tomorrow! They will cover the hole and, apparently, the body just seals it up on its own with scar tissue. Pretty cool. I'll be available for party tricks while I still have the hole in my neck, by the way. 

Also... First thing this morning, I video recorded my voice for you. Enjoy!

Side note: If you' are dealing with things that are hurting your heart and experiencing pain that feels unbearable...  talk to someone. It doesn't show you are weak and we do want to hear your heart. If your friends don't want to listen, get new friends, or call the crisis hotline at 1-800-784-2433. Someone will answer who is wanting to give back, often because they have felt pain in their lifetime and have tools to work with you.

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*Monte Python and the Holy Grail